Saturday 24 March 2018

Dunne divorce 'curveball' stirs the interest of chattering class

US trustee's reference in court filing to Gayle as 'ex-wife' fuels speculation on marital status

Sean Dunne faces questions over his marriage to Gayle Killilea
Sean Dunne faces questions over his marriage to Gayle Killilea
Ronald Quinlan

Ronald Quinlan

'SO are they or aren't they? Who? Why Sean and Gayle of course. I mean didn't you see? Didn't you hear what was in The Irish Times the other day? If the paper of record is asking if the Dunnes are divorced, then there must be something in it."

That's the kind of conversation that was being had within the ranks of Dublin 4's chattering class and between curtain-twitchers everywhere last week in response to The Irish Times headline: 'US official queries if Sean Dunne and Gayle Killilea are divorced'.

As stories go, there's no doubt it would have suited the Dunnes' ever-so-respect-able detractors perfectly, fitting in as it did (however clumsily) alongside the tale peddled by gossip mongers during the boom which had it that the couple's marriage in Thailand in July 2004 was only a 'sham'.

Had there been any substance to that particular rumour, it might at least have answered the question now being asked by Richard Coan, the trustee currently handling the Carlow-born developer's US bankruptcy.

Even for a man who once had dreams of bringing a piece of Knightsbridge to Ballsbridge, trying to divorce a lady the begrudgers' brigade believe you never married in the first place really is just a little far fetched.

In filing his preliminary response last Sunday night in New Haven, Connecticut to Sean Dunne's objections to being brought before his creditors for a sixth round of questioning though, Mr Coan still managed to throw what Stateside baseball fans would call a 'curveball' as he raised the delicate matter of the family law proceedings in which Mr Dunne is still involved. .

"Sean Dunne does not want the trustee or this court to see the documents related to his in-camera proceedings in Ireland and Switzerland – documents that may detail the transfer of millions of euro to an insider – his wife (or ex-wife) Killilea Dunne," Mr Coan wrote.

Given how completely the trustee's apparent questioning of the Dunnes' marital status caught the imagination of the po-faced Irish Times, their failure to leave any room for the possibility that there mightn't be anything to it isn't really that surprising.

It is disappointing though when one considers that they and other media were present on June 10 last year as Sean Dunne gave evidence under oath at the first meeting of his creditors that he and Gayle were still husband and wife.

Asked by Mr Coan at the outset of that meeting if he was married, the Carlow-born developer said: "Yes, yes."

Further examination of the official transcript from that day's proceedings throws up numerous instances where Mr Dunne referred to Gayle Killilea Dunne as his wife, and where his bankruptcy trustee and lawyers for Nama and the Ulster Bank accepted this to be the case.

Last night, Gayle confirmed to the Sunday Independent that her marriage to Sean is still going strong 10 years on from their wedding in Thailand and the two-week long celebrations that followed on the Christina O. "Yes I am," Ms Killlea Dunne confirmed when asked if she she was still Mr Dunne's wife.

Turning to the matter of the documents relating to the in-camera proceedings which the trustee says Mr Dunne doesn't want him to see, those present at the same creditors' meeting in June of last year would also have heard the developer's lawyer, James Berman, suggest possible ways in which this sensitive issue might be handled.

As Mr Coan's questioning began to veer in the direction of matters which may have arisen in the course of family law proceedings involving the developer, Mr Berman interjected, saying: "He [Sean Dunne] is more than willing to provide the information if we can do it consistent with Irish law in a way that doesn't subject him to contempt sanctions, whether it's an order under seal or some other format, or maybe the voluntary consent of other parties involved, if that's sufficient, then we'd also be prepared to do it."

In his filing to the court last Sunday night, Mr Coan seems to have agreed to do just that.

Mr Coan wrote: "The trustee seeks access to the family law documents available to the official assignee [in Ireland] subject to the same restrictions placed on the official assignee by the Irish High Court.

"The trustee will seek an order of this court placing the same confidentiality restrictions on the family law documents in the US that the Irish High Court has placed on family law documents in Ireland."

In giving this undertaking, the trustee is, according to lawyers for Mr Dunne, merely accepting an offer which they maintain was given to him over a year ago.

Just how much further the trustee's request for material relating to Sean Dunne's family law proceedings will bring him in his investigations into the developer's financial affairs remains to be seen however.

Indeed, when it comes to his assertion that these documents "may detail the transfer of millions of euro to an insider – his wife (or ex-wife) Killilea Dunne", Mr Coan may yet find there is nothing more to add to the €100m Sean Dunne has already said he agreed to give his wife on foot of the agreement they drew up in 2005 following the birth of their first child, Bobby Luke.

While the developer sought to explain the arrangement at a meeting of his creditors last December saying the money had been given in return for "love and affection and children" and "having a happy marriage, cooking the odd meal, washing the odd shirt... the very odd one," lawyers for the couple put it in more formal terms when they wrote to Nama on the matter in October 2012.

Referring to the purpose of the €100m in transfers Mr Dunne says he executed in favour of his wife, they said: "The transfers that were made were for good estate management, to insure independent financial security, and were simply those any husband, in Mr Dunne's financial position, might make for the benefit of his wife and the mother of his children."

Referring to the developer's financial strength at that point, they noted: "At the time Mr Dunne entered into this agreement, he was a successful property developer and businessman, with a net worth substantially in excess of the value of the assets transferred and had no reason to believe that he would ever face insolvency.

"By illustration, on June 20, 2007 KPMG provided Mr Dunne with a net worth statement, indicating that he had a net worth in excess of €500m."

The Dunnes' lawyers went on to say that while the developer had effected "a substantial portion of the value of the transfers required in the agreement in the course of 2005 and in subsequent years", a supplemental property agreement had been drawn up on July 22, 2008.

The purpose of this latter agreement, they said, was to "address the fact that Mr Dunne had not fully complied with his obligations under the 2005 agreement".

Nama's solicitors were reminded in the same correspondence that the agency had already been informed by Mr Dunne of the existence of both the 2005 and 2008 agreements when he submitted his business plan to it in October and December 2010.

The developer had also supplied copies of the agreements to Nama they said.

Ultimately the issue of the outstanding €32.5m ($44m) Mr Dunne owed under the terms of the 2005 agreement became the subject of a judgement secured by Ms Killilea Dunne in Switzerland in 2010.

Asked at a meeting of his creditors last February by Nama's US lawyer, Tom Curran, if he thought it was unusual for a wife to sue her husband, Mr Dunne said: "I can't account for the actions of other people.

"When I owe money, I don't contest it."

With Gayle Killilea as his wife, he wouldn't want to.

Sunday Independent

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